That Sound You Hear is the Cat Laughing

emptybagAmid the never ending and ultimately futile efforts of the record industry to stuff the cat back into the bag and drag us all back in time to the halcyon days when they controlled the gateway to music the way Scoble used to control the gateway to blogging comes word that a government study has found that peer to peer downloaders actually buy more, not less, music.  So what if the government is Canada.  Canada gave us Neil Young and Rush.  We won’t mention Celine Dion or Bryan Adams.

The finding that most people are talking about is this one:

Among Canadians engaged in P2P file-sharing, we find a positive and statistically significant relationship between the number of music tracks downloaded via P2P networks and the number of CDs purchased. For an increase in the average number of P2P downloads per month of 2.718282, the number of CD purchases per year will increase by 1.212. For an increase in the average number of P2P downloads per month of 1 (ie., 2.718282/2.718282), the number of CD purchases per year will increase by (1.212/2.718282 =) 0.44. This suggests that there is some form of music creation effect derived from P2P file-sharing, discussed below.

In other words, on the average a user who downloads two extra CD’s worth of music will purchase roughly an extra CD.  This is an interesting finding that certainly supports the position that music sharing is not the prime evil the record industry says it is, although the study also found that people who download songs because they find CDs too expensive buy less CDs.  I suppose that means those who actually buy CDs after downloading songs are subsidizing the cheapskates.

The more interesting finding is that, when looking at the entire population, the study found no evidence that peer to peer file sharing has any effect whatsoever on CD purchases.  That’s the only finding that should matter.

My personal experience with web accessible music (I don’t use peer to peer applications for reasons that don’t involve fear of the man) is similar to Rex Hammock’s:

I can look back over the last five years and point to literally hundreds of dollars of purchases I’ve made because I can sample music in new ways via the web. In my case, I am sampling music via Last.fm or the massive sample file the SXSW folks put together each March. So, while I do not actively participate in anything that can be construed as an “illegal” file-sharing network, I can understand how having more exposure to an unlimited supply of music will result in the increased purchase of a small sub-set of that music.

Much like the global warming debate, opponents will attack and dissect this study, and spin it to their position.  But it’s one more brick in the wall of arguments that scream for the record industry to quit grieving for its deceased business model and focus on the future.  The cat’s out of the bag and he’s not coming back.

It could be worse for the record companies- they could be polar bears.

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